Off the Clock

I’ve heard employees say, “My employer tells me to clock out once I have reached 8 hours in the day, even if I haven’t finished my work.”  If you worked past when you clocked out, can you get paid for it?  If you actually worked more than 40 hours — even if your employer has a policy against working unauthorized overtime – do you still have a right to be paid for it?

The answer to both questions is yes if you’re a “non-exempt” employee.  Your employer must pay you for all of the time you work.  In North Carolina, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act govern how, when, and for what an employer must pay you.  Generally speaking, non-exempt employees (regardless of whether they are paid by the hour or salary) must be compensated for any time spent working for the employer.  This includes work that is performed before the employee is clocked in or after the employee is clocked out as well as work performed away from the employer’s job site.

Consider the following situation for example.  You’re a non-exempt employee and you are trying to meet a Monday deadline for a project and you’ve worked hard all week.  By Friday at 4:00PM you had already clocked 40 hours.  You go home Friday evening and you work two hours Friday night and again three hours on Sunday afternoon.  Whether or not your employer likes it, it owes you for five hours at the overtime rate of 1.5 times your effective hourly rate.

Wage and hour laws also forbid forcing an employee to clock out for lunch and expecting the employee to continues to work through her lunch break, or automatically deducting a half-hour lunch break from all employees’ time regardless of whether they worked through lunch or not.

However, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination, if you violate your employer’s policies regarding working overtime or working through lunch breaks without prior authorization.  You should carefully consult your employee handbook or your human resource department before working hours that you know aren’t authorized.

If you believe your employer is short-changing you by explicitly or implicitly requiring you to work uncompensated hours, you should contact an experienced employment attorney.

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